Swiss Re study maps Asia’s changing cancer patterns

Swiss Re Asia Cancer Trends Study releases its latest analysis, prostate cancer, following recent regional studies on cervical, liver, stomach and thyroid cancers.

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death and disability worldwide with approximately 14 million new cases and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths in 2012.

In Asia, the economic growth in the region has powered a dynamic shift in lifestyles, with increased urbanisation, adoption of westernised diets and obesity contributing to an upward cancer trend and changing cancer pattern in Asian countries. This is predicted to lead to an increase in incidence in the region from 6.1 million to 10.6 million by 2030.

At the same time, the infrastructure to appropriately manage the growing cancer burden varies widely across the region. Cancer-related services, including vaccination, screening, diagnosis and treatment, require substantial investment to ensure access to both preventive and curative care for all sections of the population.

In order to provide a comprehensive view of the changing burden of cancer in Asia, we have launched the Swiss Re Asia Cancer Trends Study. The study comprises a series of reports on major cancers in Asia, including breast, cervical, colorectal, liver, lung, prostate, stomach, and thyroid cancer.

The reports provide up-to-date information on incidence rates, risk factors and emerging trends. They also include appropriate management and investment strategies to strengthen healthcare infrastructure in the region.

Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is the first female-specific cancer that Swiss Re has explored as part of the Asia Cancer Trends Study. Here are some key insights from the report:

  • The fourth most common female cancer in the world, with incidence rates which vary significantly across Asia.
  • Infection with Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the major risk factor leading to the development of cervical cancer.
  • This is one of the few cancers for which we can identify the development stages of the cancer cells, whereby the progression from early stage to advanced stage may take years. This provides a significant window of opportunity for early screening and medical intervention.

Colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the world, after lung, prostate and breast cancer.

  • In 2012, there were over 1.3 million new cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed and Asia accounted for just over 600 000 new cases
  • Over the past two decades, many Asian countries including China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, have experienced a two to four fold increase in colorectal cancer incidence.
  • The rising trend in the incidence and mortality from colorectal cancer is more pronounced in affluent than in poorer societies and differs substantially between different ethnic groups.

Liver Cancer

Liver cancer is the sixth most commonly-diagnosed cancer worldwide. Below are some key insights from the report:

  • Asia as a whole is an endemic area for liver cancer, contributing 76% of new cases and deaths in liver cancer globally
  • Risk factors related to liver cancer, such as hepatitis B and C, as well as alcohol intake, are important considerations at the underwriting stage. 80% of liver cancer in the region is caused by Hepatitis B and C.
  • While treatments for some of these drivers such as Hepatitis C show great promise, their cost (up to $168,000 per treatment) remains prohibitive
  • Liver cancer is one of the few cancers that has shown a reducing incidence trend over the past decade, and this is likely to be due to vaccination against HBV, improved post-infection control and regulations on food contamination.

Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer occurs mainly amongst elderly male population. It is attracting extensive attention in Asian insurance industry, as observed incidence rates have increased rapidly during the past decade and continue to rise today.

  • Despite the increasing trends, both incidence and mortality of prostate cancer in most Asian populations are still much lower than in Western populations.
  • Autopsy studies have also found that the prevalence of asymptomatic prostate cancer is much higher in men over the age of 70 in the United States than in Japanese men over the age of 80 (81-83% vs 48%)
  • A Western diet rich in red or processed meat with high total and saturated fat content tends to elevate the risk of prostate cancer, while elements of an Eastern diet including green tea and soybean may have a protective effect.

Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer is the fifth most common malignant tumour worldwide, when figures from both men and women are combined.

  • Up to 73% of global cases of stomach cancer occur in Asia, making it one of the most significant tumours in the region
  • Statistics show that its prevalence varies among countries in Asia, with the highest incidence rates in Japan and Korea
  • In Japan and Korea, stomach cancer is the most cancer amongst males and is one of the top five most common cancers for females

Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer presents its own unique set of challenges. The report found:

  • While it is one of the most prevalent malignancies in the world, the vast majority of cases are dormant and exhibit no adverse effects on the patients.
  • The biggest risk facing insurers who provide insurance benefits payable upon diagnosis of cancer is the widespread adoption of screening procedures, as has already been observed over the past decade in South Korea and also more recently in certain regions of China.
  • In Korea for example, the incidence rate of Thyroid cancer between 1993 and 2011 increased 15 fold, yet the mortality rate remained stable.

Published 27 March, 2017

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